GOING OUT ON A PHANTOM LIMB
Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: November 20, 2004 | Publication: Ain't It Cool News | Author: Mr. Sheldrake
THE PHANTOM'S REVIEW
Living in New York City is in many ways a matter of learning to cope with world-class traffic, like when you're in the cheese line at Zabar's or playing Death Race 2000 on the Major Deegan Expressway. After 1988, when the Phantom of the Opera opened at the Majestic on West 44th Street, during certain hours that block, and several surrounding blocks, are lost to us, flooded as they are with 1600 theater goers at the front and back end of a two hour and thirty minute production. And, by the way, the Majestic is not the only theater on the block.
Just as New Yorkers rarely go to the Statue of Liberty, we usually don't go see shows that are really theme parks built for tourists. Ghosts haunting opera houses in Paris? Ok, but I'd rather go see Rent, a movie about evil landlords-now there's a plot that will draw the New York crowd, especially if there's handy advice for dealing with legal issues in the context of rent-stabilization laws. The advice in Phantom, typical of horror films, is all bad advice. That's a famous trope and I won't rehearse it for you here, but I confess to some impatience. I mean, clear out the opera house, get the police, find the nutjob, lock up the nutjob, fill the seats, get the show up on the boards. How hard is that? Isn't that what you learn in Impresario 101? If you read Phantom as a sort of period Handbook for Landlords, seems that back then they preferred to work out tenant issues over a long period of time. The more intransigent the tenant, the more time they gave him. If the tenant was insane, they paid him a salary.
Joel Schumacher's movie of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera exists only functionally in the realm of landlord-tenant conflict, of course, and mainly in the dark and imaginative space of a young girl's discovery of her sexuality. The joining of Monster and House is one that resonates strongly with young people, especially when they suffered abusive relationships with their parents, and one way the Phantom is played in this movie is the abusive and confusingly attractive Cool Teacher/Dad. Young Girl has to distinguish Man Love from Dad Love from Cool Teacher Love and get clear in her head that Daddy Not Equal Sex With Cool Teacher. Whoaaa, Nellie! Is the American audience ready for this? Well, they've been selling out the Broadway show for years now so maybe it is, Lois, maybe it is. Joel Schumacher's entertainingly debauched sensibility, which ill served him in the nipply Batman cod-stume piece, works well for this material because, folks, it's ALL ABOUT SEX. There's no sublimation! It's all right there! This is one low down horny deviant forbidden story disguised as musical high romanticism and I highly recommend that you approach that way -- as filthy taboo erotica--to extract maximum enjoyment.
I mean, come on: why do think this thing has been so successful? Andrew Lloyd Webber is the man who brings sex and rock to musicals. He brought Mary Magdalene to the Superstar, put a naked Cat on stage, and finally he's brought us Daddy's Little Girl. Emmy Rossum, who was sixteen, and turned seventeen, during the making of the film, is delicious as Christine Daae, the pale skinned, raven-haired innocent with the heaving bosom and the angelic voice, waiting to be half-willingly defiled. She's a young thing who's compassionate towards the monster, who believes that there's good in everyone. The Phantom is that he's the sort of man who attracts the sort of woman who believes it's her job to save that sort of man. One has to work hard to imagine what Christine Daae would think of as a 'bad date,' bad enough to disqualify him forever as Potential Husband material (thanks, Plum Sykes and Julie Bergdorf). She causes us to remember that in the old movies there was a part of the audience that attended the movie primarily because where there's a monster and a girl, there's gonna be a ripped dress and an exposed rack-a-rola somewhere in that story. There better be. Like all great horror tales, this baby girl is hot and some part of her is really tired of being so damned good all the time. The story is the tale of the choice she must make: to purify her own heart, side with the Ivory Snow Boy and raise an 100 99/100ths per cent pure family, or to sink into sensual pleasure with the French Gothic equivalent of Frank-N-Furter.
Now close your eyes and let's change everything.
Joel Schumacher's movie of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera is a faithful recreation of the stage play. Far more a romance than a horror story, this Phantom, trapped in the night and in the mind, struggles towards daylight and a healing that only one woman's love is equipped to help him achieve. Raoul, the Viscount who is the Opera's chief patron, enters the operatic community just as the young soprano, Christine Daae, rises to a leading role in the performances, but Raoul soon discovers that the innocent Christine is caught in a strange dark relationship with her never-seen music teacher, a figure identified only in his acts of vengeance and in the enforcement of his will --The Phantom of the Opera. As Raoul and Christine's love for each other grows and deepens, her guilt and fear at abandoning her teacher, who loves her obsessively, overwhelms her and forces her to choose between one good man, and one man with a twist in his soul that will destroy anyone who comes to close to it.
This story, like all great classics, asks questions that are deeply personal: are we capable of empathy? Do we truly believe in transcendence and healing, or do we prefer to make gestures towards healing only from the comfort of our own secure lives and relationships -- when we are safe? Will we take risks with our compassion, or will fear rule us? Then there's what I think of as the Raoul question: is there a kind of mental healthiness, so-called, that fears and despises the damaged soul so much that it condemns that soul to a future with no hope of help? Raoul is in the story primarily to interfere with Christine's absorption into the life of the Phantom, but you wonder if it would been so bad -or even better- for Christine and the Phantom if Raoul had just let them alone and let nature, even malformed nature, take its course. The story is an eternal one and as you leave the theater you feel nothing was truly resolved, that this is the story of a struggle between gods or archtypes and that it will never truly be over.
As directed by Joel Schumacher and photographed by John Mathieson (Gladiator, Hannibal) this is truly a gorgeous motion picture, painterly, designed and wonderfully lit, spilling over with lights, costumes, bosoms, staircases, and the chandelier; dancers and singers and dwarves, Viscounts, monsters and the bourgeoise. The set design and rich colors of the production bear up under the weight of the operatic emotions. Schumacher's camera work is active and dynamic, and he is always on the search for a new shot or angle to give us some fresh take on the Opera House and the many worlds it contains.
The music is familiar to anyone who's seen the play or heard the soundtrack, and for those who haven't heard it, the recording is clear and the vocal phrasings are well articulated, at least when the leads sing, so that you'll miss nothing. The group recordings, on the other hand, are muddied and confused and sometimes overwhelmed by the orchestrations and you'll have to strain to get the words, as I did. But there's so much to look at during those group numbers that you may not notice.
As a regular opera goer, it's a little strange to go to a movie about the opera -- and and hear no real no opera music. That said, there are a few numbers that borrow riffs from the standard repertoire of arias, the standout piece being one of the first, which directly quotes the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart's Magic Flute. This theatrical warhorse has been up in lights every night for so long, I'm sure someone has written a dissertation analyzing Phantom's musical influences. (I didn't find one, but this link about the influences on another work of his is telling: http://www.scena.org/columns/lebrecht/040924-NL-lloydwebber.html)
I think one question that would have to be on everyone's mind who's seen the play would have to be: is there enough new material that it's worth it for me to see the movie? I think so. For one thing, Emmy Rossum's performance is really something to behold, for she gives herself over to it in a way that only a young person can, with her whole heart, and that comes across on screen. And oh. my. God. she is beautiful. The two male leads, Gerry Butler and Patrick Wilson, also deliver effective performances, especially Butler's tortured Phantom, who is believably handsome and frightening and brilliant at the same time. Minnie Driver's Carlotta the Diva is very funny. Also, Schumacher's set designs are entirely original and sumptuous, and his deep understanding of the camera's vocabulary and the ways it can open up a stage story to a movie audience deliver new visual riches to an eye that knows the stage sets. Finally, the characters are given histories by showing their stories on screen in a way that gives you a new understanding of what drives them, and what binds them.
Now you have two reviews.
Choose, Christine. Choose.
One final story about Phantom of the Opera, the original silent movie with Lon Chaney. My friend Cassie Chan, a mystery writer (whose new book The Young Widow: a Philip Bethancourt Mystery will be out in August 2005, St. Martin's Press) was told by her father all the while he was growing up about this movie. Her father, Ed Chan, an illustrator, loved the movie and told Cassie and her mother, Doe, about the movie's hero, a poor misunderstood man whose art redeemed him. Years later, Cassie caught the movie on PBS and began watching it -and couldn't believe her eyes. "Poor misunderstood artist my foot!" was Cassie's reaction. "What was my father thinking? The Phantom is a monster."